Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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Not What If

Day 85:  I noticed something today.  I have gotten rather good at not worrying about ‘what if.’  It’s that part of being that rises up when things are going well and reminds you of what happened the last time or ten years ago.

In the past I had one of those life-altering events that leaves, as a friend of mine says, scorched earth.  Not just everything upset but everything destroyed.  While I carry some scars from those events, I can tell you that I foolishly spent time creating my own chaos when things began to become good again.  I have a theory about this that is part medical, part psychological and part me having a bit of an epiphany.  When we are faced with crisis or life-altering issues, our bodies produce a big push of adrenaline and our brains tell us to use it for fight or flight. If the crisis is ongoing, we get used to that constant feeling of being energized and on the edge.  Then things begin to settle down.  And here is where the choice comes in.  If we want to continue on that adrenaline high, we need to create new chaos, stir up new drama, fuel some tiny problem until it’s raging.  Otherwise the spotlight disappears and life change must occur. I’m not sure which is more difficult, looking yourself in the mirror and telling yourself to stop or having someone else pointing out that you are doing it.  It requires some thoughtful determination to stop the drama wheel from churning and discovering what your new norm can be.   I do know that when we stop creating our own drama, it becomes easier to believe that there can be no more pianos falling from the sky to squish us or be haunted by the ghosts of past failure.   If I am going to imagine my future and conjure some ‘what ifs’ then I choose to imagine that all the drama in life is on HBO and that my problems are short-lived, minuscule critters who are highly allergic to my breath of calm.


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I Get What She’s Saying

Days 83 & 84:  I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday.  I mean, I went to work and worked.  I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again.  Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.

The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings.  And that is often enough.  Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO.  I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit.  Then my phone rang.  It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October.  She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago.  She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here?  And I do.  She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too.  We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you.  We’ll talk soon. 

I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight.  The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering.  I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time.  Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins.  Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins.  I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.


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Bittersweet

Days 80,81,82: Well, it was a weekend of more doing that writing.  More reading than writing.  More community than writing.  The whole weekend had crisp air with hints and smatterings of rain.  The past and present spent a lot of time kissing one another.

Truman went for his doggie spa day.  When I went to retrieve my golden retriever, they had trimmed him into a puppy cut.  In his eyes I could see the light and love of the fuzzy yellow puppy that he was 9 years ago.  He put his head on my shoulder in the car and I thought of the long days he spent at my side when I was recovering from cancer.  I thought of how little he expects of me and how much he gives. And I noticed the white mask forming on his face and the white patches on his haunches. The dogs are 9,10, and 11 years old.  Looking at the wagging trio,  I decided not do the dishes. I didn’t do much other stuff for the rest of the day.  I threw the ball, tugged the toy, scratched ears and bellies, massaged some aging joints and we all fell asleep while I was reading.

A couple of years ago, I gave away a huge portion of my collection of cookbooks.  I had an obscene amount of cookbooks.  I collected most of them as a young mom and some of my best memories with my own mother involve hot cups of coffee and buttered toast shared while leafing through recipes –improving, mocking, marking to make, and wondering who could afford the ingredients for some of them.  I kept collecting them after she died and looking for her handwritten notes among the old ones.  My daughter and I carried on the tradition but it never felt like it ‘clicked.’ I was reminded more than once this weekend that she learns by doing.  She grew up with me having Saturday or Sunday community dinners.  Usually fresh bread and soup or chili and lots of philosophical conversation, some music and musings.  And anyone could come.  As I sorted through more of the cookbooks (and decided to give away 3 boxes), I thought about how much I miss those meals and what it would take to revive that in some way.  Later that night, my daughter called to share her pasta sauce happiness.  She started serving community dinners a few months ago for protesters on their way to the DAPL stand-off.  It has since evolved into community dinners of her own.  Fifteen hundred miles was unable to contain the savory and sweet of that conversation–how much I miss my mother and my daughter and yet how close to me they both are.

Tonight as I finished boxing and sorting, I thought about my morning and early afternoon spent with an excellent friend cooking up ideas for the fairy house we are making from a tree stump in my front yard and plotting what to cook for an event we are both attending next weekend.  I thought how good it is to have a co conspirator.  I also stumbled on a copy of The Subject Tonight is Love a translation of Hafiz’s poetry by Daniel Ladinsky.  It was a gift to a paramour from whom I separated several years ago.  Until tonight, it was pristine and unread. The heartfelt note tucked inside it reads, These words are for you and say to you from across time and truths that you are beloved in the heart of the Mystery and in the heart of the one who asks you to stretch yourself and crack open the dusty doors. Read them and speak to me about what you know, what you are learning and what you hope for.  We never had that conversation; but, after tonight, the book will no longer be unread.


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Growling Hope

Days 78 & 79: It’s raining big, splattering drops here and I am mulling things over.  I am nearly 80 days in and I’m not sure if knowledge and progress are weighing evenly with failures and unbridled whimpering.  At this point, here’s what I think:

Compassion and anger are able to be partners–even if they make me uncomfortable.  In Chapter 6 of Crones Don’t Whine, the author talks about how even the meekest among us finds and voices her outrage more easily as an older woman. She adds that the choice to go down one path ultimately means we have chosen not to take a different route.  (I am not sure I wholly agree with her about this.)   I have notes that say compassionate anger, well-intended outrage, growling hope and radical empathy–can you make your self-interest the center of this decision-making or will this always work by putting others first and self last?  This becomes a pretty important point as I go forward because I have apparently been living some of it backwards. So much of what I have read about contentment and fulfillment in this part of life is about becoming an activist, a volunteer, a voice for those who cannot always speak for themselves.  And evidently in our 60’s is when all of this is supposed to flourish.  For me, my first interaction with rescue dogs was feeding strays as a pre-schooler. I was 12 when I hid a neighbor boy in our basement because his father was intent on killing him. For years I spent every waking moment of every day being an advocate for my son, abused children, families with mental health crises, as well as women battling social and educational illiteracy.  I am finding no guidelines to say what a person who has done this from youth to 60 does from 60 on.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am not somehow involved. But there has to be balance. And there has to be something to do when I do choose self.

I must get some sleep.  I have to be up early to take my golden retriever for his Spring spa day at the groomers where he will be bathed, clipped, and have a chance to romp and play with his friends. Maybe I need to take a cue from my dog.

 


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Semi-colon

Day 77:  There is such power in words.  A practiced speech may sound important but simply be well-rehearsed.  Those words that are spoken in staccato rhythms that sound like hail on a tin roof and pile up on the ground, causing you to look for ways to step around and over them.  Those words have unrestrained power.

I heard so many of them today.

I’m tired of dealing with this. I’m tired of dealing with the complaints and all of it. How about you take it over completely?  All of my practice saying yes to things I want and no to things I don’t want to do stuck in my throat.  This is a friend with his head in his hands.  I replied with something that got him smiling and nearly tap danced my way out of the conversation.  He was able to clearly express his needs and desires and I managed a flimsy maybe.

My son told me he was going to go live with his step-dad and get rich selling drugs with him. I told him he’d just end up in jail.  And I told this person they won–my employed son who pays his bills and goes to counselling and is struggling toward a life is a prize by comparison.  When I asked them if they believed parenting ever eases up when you have a struggling young adult, they looked me straight in the eye and said No. I don’t think it does. But we’re built to endure more, too.  I told them that sometimes I wish truth could always be served with a side of wine and chocolate.  They nodded and we hugged one another for a while. I mentioned a couple of resources she might use and we both went back to work.

Why do we feel like we need to pull people back from the edge when they say they want to commit suicide?  This world is nothing but a pile of shit. What are we pulling them back to?  The shit?  Or just so we have company in the shit?  I felt like he sideswiped me.  It was the first time all day I remembered to really breathe.  It’s nearly noon and I’m in a meeting room with these words clanging in the air.  I told him this: Not all of the world is shit.  The world that I work to create for myself every day is not shit.  It’s a good place.  And if I pull someone back, it’s to that good place–even if only for a while and I remind them of something I learned long ago–good things grow with only a little nurturing and the layer of shit is just fertilizer.  I am unapologetic about this. Anyone is worth the effort and ultimately everyone sooner or later makes their own choice.

It was exhausting.  At the end of the day I came home and showered off the grit but saved what I believe may be the beginning of a map.

 


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Day 76

Day 76: I have been looking at the computer for about an hour trying to figure out how not to write this.  I could not come up with a viable excuse and I want to honestly journal this journey.

The question becomes do I convince myself that I am content with something, do I visualize what content in a situation would mean for me and then work at shaping that into a reality, or do I just fold?  And into this mixture of questions I must add the additional ingredients of my own belief system:  everything is a choice (I don’t get to blame/credit someone else) and the idea that somewhere, somehow I chose to live this particular life.

Yesterday I chose to address some feelings I had about things going on with my son.  He reminds me of the pines and cedars that grow in Colorado on the face of granite slopes.  No protection from wind and weather, not a water source in sight–growing out of stone in its own fashion.  I have chosen to be his safe place–the person to whom he can express his issues without rejection.  Have you ever seen that old footage of a nuclear explosion at a distance and then the people, homes and lives are leveled by the invisible shock wave that follows?  It’s like that.  I’d like to say that I can just deal with it some aging incarnation of Wonder Woman.  And I do when it’s grenade-sized.  But other times I am reminded that I have PTSD. (Did I mention that?  Yep, I do.)  And when the shock waves hit my surface of contentment and hard-won layers of peace and inner quiet, it feels like they melting and I am left with a puddle of self to rebuild.

And that brings me to the end of this day that I spent wrapped in mental band aids having cheese corn for both lunch and dinner.  I visualized this phase of life and of parenting much differently.  Does the perfect parent make sure they are there indefinitely?  Does it make me the worst parent ever and most selfish person to want to choose my own health and calm and structure ahead of another’s?  I don’t know.


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Broken Goddesses

Day 75 – I’m baaack.  Geez, I detest being ill.  More so, I really don’t like feeling ill.  I learned something about myself in the midst of it though.  I shall raise my right hand and admit to being judgmental of women who whine about their diets and health and greying hair and fading beauty and boo hoo.  And while I don’t whine about those things and try not to whine aloud in general, wow is my interior voice great at whining and complaining.  Well, as long as nobody knows but me, it doesn’t count right?  Wrong.  So wrong.  The good part is that it’s becoming pretty clear what my barrier is to daily, DIY contentment.  (More on that tomorrow when I’ve had a little time to process.)

My vehicle is back from its’ second week-long visit with Miracle Keith.  I don’t know what all he did to it but the transmission is working nicely and it no longer sounds like there is a toilet flushing beneath my dashboard.  It happened at no cost and I am willing to admit I could be the new poster crone for buying that extended warranty on the engine/transmission.  Sometimes the feeling of safety and contentment is worth the extra $9.00 per month added to the car payment.

I did push through and get some work done on decluttering and spring cleaning yesterday. I had no problem giving away a whole series of Spanish glass heads that I collected.  Not easily come by, worth some money and nearly all gone.  It’s the broken goddesses that I plan to keep.  I have been collecting them for a while.  There is some part of me that is indignant on their behalf.  One moment a revered deity and the next off to the thrift store because someone knocked her from her perch.  I have Quan Yin and Quan Am, each missing fingers or toes.  Themis with a broken sword.  A straw goddess with an uneven base, Mara.  A carved wooden one that has been scorched in fire. I have absolutely no proof that it is an image of Teresita Urrea (a Mexican/American folk healer written about in The Hummingbird’s Daughter) but I would like to think it is.  Everyone was cleaned and dusted and they are all chatting in a circle right now, perhaps comparing wounds or maybe just healing one another.